Summary: Once upon a time, there lived a girl who loved a ghost, and they lived happily ever after. This is not (quite) that story. Ghost!Suze, Human!Jesse. AU. JS.
Disclaimer: Not mine, never mine, and I promise to put them back when I'm done.
AN – Sorry for the delayed posting; real life's been unforeseeably hectic recently, and there were a few things about this chapter I wanted to straighten out. Have some CeeCee-Adam banter as a peace-offering.
Chapter Six - Lend Me Your Ears
I didn't see Susannah at all the next day, nor the one after. I spent Sunday concentrating on entirely non-ghost related matters, mainly homework, and Monday was, of course, school. I saw Abi briefly at lunchtime; she waved at me from where she sat with Georgie and some other seniors, no sign of Hannah or Susannah.
"Why," asked Adam curiously, "is Abigail Brown waving at you?"
CeeCee swivelled round to stare, apparently sensing a story.
I shrugged nonchalantly. "We met over the weekend," I explained. "She was working in the bookshop in town."
"Huh," said CeeCee, eyebrows furrowed in evident disbelief. "Poor girl. Like she's not got enough on her plate without every female in school baying for her blood."
It was my turn to be confused. "What do you mean?"
"I mean," sighed CeeCee, with the air of one explaining something very simple to a child, "That you, Jesse, are basically the most exciting thing to happen around here in months. Not only are you from New York but it turns out you're also nice, friendly to everyone, able to wither Debbie with a glance, and, to cap it all, really quite good looking."
"People think that about me?" I blinked.
"Utterly gorgeous, I believe, were the words Kelly Prescott used in the ladies on your first day. Frankly, I was more surprised that she knew the word utterly. Anyway, half the girls in our year already believe themselves in love with you, and the other half aren't far behind. If you've got your eye on Abigail, well, good for you, she's pretty sensible as far as girls round here go, but it will break a lot of hearts, and girls don't deal well with that. Oddly, they'll blame Abigail rather than you."
"I've not got my eye on Abigail!" I spluttered. "I mean, I just chatted to her a bit on Saturday…"
"Mhmm," agreed CeeCee kindly. "I'm sure. Anyway, the problem is, Jesse, that you've upset the balance. You're hot, but you're not a jock, and you've proven to be pretty intelligent. You've been nice to everyone you've met so far, social status notwithstanding, and so suddenly it's not just the Kellys and Heathers who are hoping for a chance; the more nerdy sectors of our society have got their hopes up, too. You're probably the most sought after guy in school at the moment."
"What about you?" I demanded.
CeeCee laughed. "Sorry, Jesse. You're not really my type."
I put one hand to my chest, pretending to be deeply wounded. "That hurt, Webb."
CeeCee laughed again. "I'm sorry. It just wouldn't work, you know? Better we end it here."
"If we must," I grinned, relieved. I really liked CeeCee; I didn't want unhelpful hormones to get in the way of a friendship.
"See, maybe I should move to New York," mused Adam, sipping thoughtfully on his soda. "Then I'd be new and different and devastatingly handsome, and have girls pining over me all the time."
"You do that," agreed CeeCee good-naturedly. "Then Jesse and I wouldn't have to put up with you."
Adam threw a chip at her.
I was sitting in my room reading after dinner on Tuesday evening when Susannah suddenly appeared in front of me.
"Jesse!" she cried, evidently distressed. "I'm so sorry! She won't listen to me!"
"Wait, wait. What happened? Hannah?"
"She found Abigail alone in that park. She won't come away, I tried, but she's ridiculously strong…"
I was pulling my shoes on before she'd finished speaking.
"Is she doing anything to hurt Abi?" I demanded, zipping up my jacket and heading for the door.
"Not yet. I don't know what she plans to do, but I don't like it. She's so confused, and then she gets angry..."
"You go back and keep an eye on her, don't get involved unless she starts actually being violent. I'll be there as fast as I can."
Susannah nodded once, looking determined and calm once more, and vanished.
I hurtled through the streets of Carmel, narrowly avoiding evening walkers and earning more than a few angry shouts at my retreating back. Even so, it took nearly twenty minutes to reach the park where we had met Hannah at the weekend, and I dreaded what I might find
Abi told me later that I was like a man possessed as I hurtled through the entrance; at the time I didn't give it much thought, just screeched to halt and nearly toppled of my bike.
"You're alright." I wheezed, letting the bike fall to the floor and looking Abi up and down. "You're alright."
Abi gazed at me in shock. "Jesse?" she ventured slowly. "Are you…I mean, what's wrong?"
I shook my head, gulping for air. "Nothing. Nothing. It's…you've not seen anything odd, here, tonight, I mean? Have you?"
"What on earth are you talking about?"
This was rapidly spiralling out of control; in my panic, I hadn't really thought this bit through. From Susannah's panic, I'd been expecting Abi to be hurt, at the very least, not sitting on the bench, confused and bewildered by my presence but otherwise unharmed.
And then it got a whole heap worse.
"What," demanded Hannah with a sniff, "is he doing here?"
I spun round; Hannah stood a few feet away glaring at me, and just behind her Susannah hovered, looking worried.
"I explained all this," she said patiently to the sulking girl. "Jesse can help you. If you'll just wait until your sister is gone, then he-"
"I don't want his help!" the young girl snapped, and several of the branches in the surrounding trees began to creak ominously.
"Susannah…" I called warningly. She glanced across at me, looking worried, and a moment later I understood why.
"Susannah?" demanded Abi, sounding less confused and more irritated with every passing minute. "Who the hell is Susannah? There's no one there, Jesse, you're talking to thin air."
"Sorry," I said quickly, turning back to face her. "I…thought I heard someone I knew."
Behind me, Hannah giggled. "Smooth, ghost-boy, real smooth."
I ignored her.
"Look, I think you should get home," continued Abi, still frowning. "Get some sleep. Maybe jet lag's catching up with you…"
"Yeah," chimed in Hannah, "Jet lag. That's exactly what it is. Listen to Abi."
"Will you shut up?" I shouted, swinging round to glare at the ghost. I was trying to think, and her incessant commentary was not helping.
"Oh Jesse…" sighed Susannah sadly
"What the hell is wrong with you?" demanded Abi. "There's no one there!"
"Wrong wrong wrong wrong," chanted Hannah, still giggling gleefully.
"Look, Abi, I know you must think I'm completely insane right now, but please, I need you to go home. Right away. It's not safe out here."
Abi stared at me in exasperation.
"She won't believe you," giggled Hannah. "And she won't go. Abi's stubborn. You're going to have to tell her something. Run with the insanity idea. It's not far wrong."
I ground my teeth, trying to ignore the younger sibling while I dealt with the older, who did indeed appear to be going nowhere.
"Hannah," I snapped. "Will you please shut up?"
This was not the right thing to say. Hannah screeched in indignation, while Abi's eyes narrowed.
"What?" hissed Abi, her voice dangerously quiet and shaking with anger. "Are you sick?"
Too late, I realised my mistake. There was no way out of this now. My mind was racing, desperately trying to think of something, anything to say, but there was nothing. Never had I made such a mess of things; Abi wasn't some stranger whose life I could slip back out of, leaving her with nothing but the memory of an odd and unjustifiably rude teenager. She knew Georgie, would no doubt come to my house, knew my name and who I was and she would tell people just how mental I was, how cruel. The life I had been trying to build for myself out here, the promises I had made to my mom, all that talk of new starts…barely a week, and I'd surpassed anything I'd ever done back in New York.
I vaguely registered Susannah's voice somewhere behind me, talking quietly.
"Hannah," she was saying gently, "Would you like to talk to your sister?"
"She can't," I said dully, not even bothering to hide the words from Abi – it was too late now, afterall, the damage was done. "I can't make Abi see or hear her. You know that."
"No, but she can talk to you, and you can talk to Hannah."
I hesitated. She had a point. It wouldn't be the first time I'd acted as go-between for a ghost and their living relative, though never so openly.
"Besides," added Susannah quietly. "I'm not sure this can get any worse for you, so the only thing that can really happen is for it to get better."
"You think?" I muttered grumpily, because in my experience, things could always get worse. Right now, however, it looked like I didn't have much of a choice.
"Hannah?" I asked, turning to face her. She had stopped muttering and screaming now, and was watching Susannah and I carefully. "Would you like to talk to your sister?"
Slowly, very slowly, she nodded, just once.
"Abi," I continued, turning back to the elder sister. She was staring at me, apparently frozen by rage and disbelief, a combination of disgust and anger on her face and – crap – tears in her eyes.
"Shut up." she spat, shaking herself and making to leave. "I don't want to hear any more. You're wrong in the head, Jesse."
"Please," I pleaded, reaching out and catching her arm, "let me explain."
She shook it off. "Explain what, exactly? Your habit of talking to thin air? Or the way you seem to think it's funny to pretend to have conversations with my sister? My dead sister?"
"No, no, of course not, I wasn't pretending…"
"There's no one else here but you and me!"
She gaped at me. "You're insane," she said flatly.
"Probably." I agreed. "But please. Just hear me out."
Abi stared at me through narrowed eyes for a very long moment.
"Ok," she conceded at last, "But only because until today I thought you were kind of nice. Prove it."
"Right," I nodded, letting out a long and thoughtful breath. I'd never tried to explain this to anyone before. "This is going to sound insane."
"Yeah, I sort of guessed as much."
"I see dead people."
"Oh, please," Abi cried, turning to leave again. "If that's the best you can come up with then I'm going. We're not in a freaking movie!"
"No! Well, yes, sort of like the movie, but not really. I see all dead people, all the time. Right now in this park there is you and me and the ghost of a girl who died in my bedroom one hundred and fifty years ago, and the ghost of your sister."
Abi was apparently beyond words; she stared at me, jaw sagging, paralysed by anger and disbelief.
"It's no good," I sighed, looking over at Hannah. "She won't believe me. You can't blame her."
Hannah frowned, thinking. I had never seen her so calm and rational, and for a moment she truly looked like the fourteen year old girl she had been.
"Tell her things," said Susannah quietly. "Things only Hannah would know."
Hannah smiled widely. "Yes," she beamed, "of course. Tell her…tell her when we were little, we used to play an imaginary game where we went away to boarding school and rode horses all the time, even though she's terrified of riding. And horses."
I relayed this information, watching as Abi's expression morphed from anger to wide-eyed disbelief.
"And when we were a little bit older, dad let us have a small bonfire in the garden. I was being silly, and I tripped and burnt my arm, and she sorted it out and we promised to not tell anyone, because if mom found out she'd never let us do it again. She arranges her books in alphabetical order, and hates me going in her room. Her favourite food is pizza, and she's weirdly obsessed with British TV programmes, and…"
"Stop," said Abi quietly. "Please. Just for a moment. I need to get my head round this."
I had been repeating everything Hannah said, but now both of us fell silent.
"You're not kidding, are you," sighed Abi shakily, sinking to the floor. "God. You're not…there's no way you could know that…not even Georgie…but…Hannah?"
She looked blankly round the park, as if expecting to see her sister materialise before her.
"You can't see her," I explained gently. "I'm sorry. But…she wants to talk to you. If that's ok."
Abi blinked. "Talk to me?" she whispered, looking completely lost.
"Well, not directly, obviously. But I can be a sort of…relay, I suppose…"
I was babbling, I realised, and shut up.
"Ok. What…what does she want?"
I looked expectantly over to Hannah. "I just…I just wanted to say sorry. For not being…what you wanted."
I obediently repeated this to Abi, who looked as surprised as I felt. "What do you mean?"
"Well. I…you never seemed to like me that much. When we got older, anyway. And I know I really irritated you, but you were just never that interested in me…"
"Nor you in me," pointed out Abi softly. "We're very different people, Han, we always were."
"But you've been so…so calm. I've been watching you, ever since the accident, even at my funeral you didn't cry, you just sat there…"
Abi shook her head slowly, looking suddenly old and very sad. "Oh, Hannah," she sighed. "Don't you see? I had to. Mom and Dad were falling apart; someone had to keep things together. And you know I'm no good at emotional stuff. But that never meant I don't love you."
"Love you too," sniffed Hannah. "And I'm sorry we wasted so much time."
"Don't forget me."
"Don't be silly."
She was fading, growing steadily more transparent; had I been near enough to touch her, my hand would have struggled to get a grip.
And then we were alone.
"She's gone?" asked Abi quietly.
She sank to the ground, pulling her knees up to her chest and hugging them. "I'm alright," she assured me, seeing the concern on my face, "Honestly, I'm not going to have a break down or anything. Just…processing."
I shrugged and nodded, sitting beside her. "Sure. It's a lot to take in."
"So she's been there all the time? Ever since the accident?"
"I think so. I saw her for the first time that day I came into the bookshop."
Abi's eyes widened in sudden comprehension. "The shelf. That's how you were able to move so quick, you saw what she was doing…but why? I don't understand. Why did she want me dead?"
"I don't think she did. She was angry and upset and she wanted to talk to you. New ghosts are very powerful and not very good at control. When they get angry, things start to fly about."
We sat in silence for a while, nothing but the sound of distance cars and occasional bird.
"So you see all ghosts, then?" asked Abi suddenly, glancing over at me curiously. "Everyone who's died?"
"Everyone who dies and leaves unfinished business." I corrected. "Thankfully."
"So you what, move them to the next life?"
"Something like that. I try and help them work out why they're still here, and then, if I can, I help them move on."
"On to what?"
I shrugged. "I've no idea. I only know what happens when they hang around."
"It must be hard."
"Well, all of it, really. I mean, I thought you were insane."
I grinned slightly. "Yeah, I get that a lot. My mom blames it on my dad dying."
"She doesn't know?"
"It never seemed…right, I guess, to tell her. I'm not sure she'd even believe me. And she'd worry. My dad hung round for a while after he died, but you're the only person I actually know who knows."
Abi's eyes were round. "Really? You never told anyone?"
"As if they'd believe me. But please, Abi, keep it to yourself. Don't tell anyone, not even Georgie."
She nodded seriously. "Of course. But Jesse, are you sure? I mean, that's a hell of a job to do on your own."
I shrugged. "I do alright."
Susannah laughed in disbelief. "Oh yes, you had this one completely under control," she teased.
I glared at her. Abi twisted around to follow my gaze. "I'd forgotten…you said someone else's name…Susannah, wasn't it? Is she still here?"
I nodded, and Susannah came to stand in front of us, smiling at Abi despite the fact that she couldn't see her.
"She says hello," I translated.
"Hi," grinned Abi, looking at a point slightly to the left of Susannah's elbow. Susannah smiled slightly wistfully at the girl, more cheerfully at me, and vanished.
"Sorry. Did I do something wrong?"
"Not at all."
Abi shivered slightly. "And they just…pop in and out all the time?"
"Pretty much, yeah. Sometimes they find me, sometimes I find them."
"She used to live in my house."
"But it's been derelict for years."
"I'm not sure, but I think she died sometime around 1850."
Abi looked stunned. "And she's just been what, hanging around ever since?"
"I think so."
"She doesn't know why?"
"Not that she's told me."
We sat in silence a while longer, while the park grew dark around us and the lights flickered on.
"I should go," said Abi eventually, getting to her feet. "My parents will be wondering where I've got to."
"I'll see you tomorrow,"
"Yeah. And…thanks, Jesse."
I shrugged awkwardly. "Anytime."
"Hopefully not," she said with a wry grin. "Goodnight."
I watched her walk back up the path until she was out of sight, swallowed by the darkness.
To be continued…
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